Difficulty: Moderately strenuous
Distance: 9.5 miles
Elevation gain: 2000 feet
Critters spotted: A very feisty Weimeraner
The Iron Mountain Loop is a popular trail which sits just outside the Poway city limits, south of equally popular Mt. Woodson. Both mountains, as well as other adjacent peaks, are studded with massive granite boulders and covered with new growth chaparral. Iron Mountain gets its name from an old iron mining operation that briefly occupied the western flank of the peak. Today, the peak presents a popular cardio workout to many, although on this hike the “many” primarily represented the ladies-who-lunch demographic. Of course, this being Southern California, these ladies had to get their sunshine in before the noms. I love the roving packs of older women chatting up a storm on the trail. Good for them for getting out and working up a little ache in the hamstrings.
I hit the trail at 7:30 and enjoyed the chill before the inevitable (and freakish) heat. Temperatures have been hovering in the 80’s since Christmas, which not only makes hiking taxing, it completely upsets the balance of the universe. I’m sure a lot of people are thrilled that it’s July in January, but I look forward to snow in the mountains, water in the creeks, green grass on the slopes, and flowers in the chaparral. Yet I digress.
Iron Mountain features the same boulder studded, chaparral covered ruggedness that is common in the coastal strip from Escondido to San Diego. The trail ascends 1.5 miles through a gentle valley before it switchbacks another 1.75 miles to the top of the peak. From the peak, one can glimpse a stunning panorama of San Diego, smaller in scope than what’s visible from Palomar but more immediate due to the central location. I’m not sure who put it there, but there’s a 360 degree telescope at the top that allows you to view the scenery in great detail – no coins necessary.
I learned that most people take the out-and-back up the mountain without following the loop. However, my body was begging for the punishment, and so I continued east instead of following the trail west to return to the staging area. I soon found out why people avoid the loop. After half a mile, I began ascending another ridge that was nearly as high as Iron Mountain peak. Add in the fact that it was done in full sunlight (few trees on this trail) while the temperatures were starting to scratch 80 degrees. However, the effort and the sweat were worth it, as they almost always are. I was treated to yet more views of Ramona and Palomar Mountain, and once I crested the ridge, I had a full 1.5 miles of shaded trail on the west side of the mountain.
Aside from the views, the boulders, a pond, and a grove of eucalyptus though, this trail didn’t offer a lot. There was no topographical or floral variation. No cool riprarian relief or shady woodlands. No trickling streams. The major benefit here is the workout, and I made the most of this hike as a training exercise, which is all some hikes need to be. Sometimes you gotta get the mileage in, and the views on this hike were like icing on top of the bran muffin.
I plan to start escalating hiking distances from 8-10 miles per hike to 10-14 miles per hike over the next month. I have a 12.6 mile hike to the top of Mt. Wilson planned, and from here I want to start stretching my endurance to the point where I can finish a 14 mile hike without feeling any significant soreness. Much of that corresponds to the elevation hiked – or rather, the elevation descended, since I have less trouble with uphills than downhills. At any rate, I hope to be able to have completed the Mt. Wilson hike, the 13 mile, 4000′ gain of Oak Grove to High Point (the peak on Palomar Mountain), Mt. Lukens which covers 3600′ of gain in 4 miles, as well as Sandstone Peak from the Wendy Trailhead (14 miles, 2800 feet).
All of this is to prepare me for the spring, where I tackle Baldy, Jacinto, Cucamonga, and if the snow pack isn’t too think, San Gorgonio.
Finally, I keep forgetting my camera at home. Soon, each of these posts will come with photos. I also hope to figure out the Everytrail app, which will add a map and a graph showing elevation ascent correlating to the mileage on the hike. Woo! Fancy.
Miles hiked in January: 14.5
Miles hiked for the year: 14.5